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Inspiring the Project Team

Created on 14 May 2009 Written by Samanthi Fernando, PMP
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A practical approach to achieving project success through effective team motivation and collaboration.

If you are managing projects, it is inevitable that you will come across an uninspired unenthusiastic team member who needs to make a significant contribution in order to make the project a success. As the PM it will be your challenge to overcome this situation to make things work. Often times you will need to inspire the entire team to deliver something great. Delivering something good is simply not good enough, if you have a team that has the potential to do something better with the appropriate guidance and leadership. Keeping the team as a whole on track and engaged in the big picture is very important.

One of the key factors to engaging the project team is acknowledging their strengths and highlighting their contributions. Often times PM's take the approach of pointing out only what is not done. While this is adequate to get a response from someone, it is almost always not the desired response. Having a section in your project status report for key accomplishments is a proven method to keep things in perspective. Some PM's respond to every single deliverable with thank you emails. This to me dulls the appreciation and becomes boring and predictable. Waiting for a major milestone and sending out a carefully crafted thank you email to a wider audience has a greater impact on the project team.

The PM often plays the role of a problem solver or a mediator, bringing together strong individuals with strong opinions to work together towards a common goal. Never hesitate to apologize on behalf of your team. If someone on the team made a questionable comment during a meeting or failed to communicate something important, as the PM you can say you are sorry for what happened. The individuals involved will most often come out appreciating the fact that you took ownership of the situation and spoke up for your team. The PM is the force that brings the functional leads together and brings out the best in them. This is done best by acknowledging the strengths and competencies of your functional leads and relying on them for their expertise to propel the project towards success.

If as the PM, you also happen to be an expert in a particular functional area, don't let this appear to be a threat to the team. Use it to your advantage by offering your humble opinion and gently leading the team to consider your ideas. When the team is not threatened by the PM acting like he or she wants to take over their job, the cooperation is positive. The team realizes that you are a partner who wishes to contribute to their success and the resulting motivation is rewarding.  Motivating the project team also means not being afraid to delegate. Some PM's feel they may lose hold on their role if they let others do some of their PM tasks. In reality it is quite the opposite. Team members feel empowered and trusted when the PM believes in them enough to let them take on a leadership task. Let the Junior PM or the new Assistant Project Coordinator take responsibility for a presentation to the stakeholders if they are up to the task. It will only show the team that you are confident. If you don't ever delegate, it only makes you look insecure. A smart PM will have a cross-trained backup available for some important tasks. Show someone else how to do resource leveling. You will not end up with that person taking over your job. You will most probably end up with someone who is willing to share something else with you that you don't know how to do. Also telling somebody what to do and making them do it the way you want versus telling somebody how you would do it and inspiring them to do it right can have two very different outcomes.

Have you ever been to a meeting where the PM acts like he or she knows how to do everything in the project? The likely outcome would be an unimpressed project team. A PM may not always know every functional area thoroughly. The simplest way to react to a question where you don't know the answer is to say "let me check with my functional lead and get back to you". Take down an action item for yourself and follow up immediately after the meeting. If the subject is something you understand, then send out the answer yourself. Ask your lead to explain the answer to you and if you still don't feel confident enough to phrase it, ask if that person could help you write the response. Or ask if they could address the question directly. The objective is not to show the project team how much you know, but to make sure the right answer gets to the right audience in a timely fashion. If the response creates a chain of emails, take action to make it stop and call a meeting with the person asking the questions and your functional lead. Facilitate the discussion and document the outcome. You'll still end up being the hero for reaching a resolution even though you did not have the expertise to discuss the subject matter in its entirety yourself.

A smart PM inspires the project team after carefully strategizing each approach and catering to each individual differently. All team members do not react alike to the same tactics. Learn from your mistakes. Be humble enough to look at what went wrong and make changes in your approach. It will not go unnoticed. Rather than being branded for certain traits, be tuned to the reactions of others and evolve your traits to suit the situation. Listen to all feedback and if there is no feedback then ask for it and use it.

Your signature PM traits may stay the same throughout the lifecycle of a project and even throughout your career. But there will be several qualities that evolve and even disappear along the way. One very important thing to consider with project teams is the method of communication. Some things are better said in person or at least over the phone. Emails can sometimes come across as cold and insistent. Instant Messages have the tendency to be taken out of context and even seem like a nuisance. A conversation can take the edge out of something unpleasant. A phone call can set the tone for something otherwise seemingly accusatory. Know when to use which. Email and IM are both very important and useful tools that the PM needs to keep things on track and get quick status updates. But taking a moment to decide whether to walk over to speak to someone over sending an email about an issue can change the impression you will have on that person.  

As an effective leader, the PM must strive to empower the project team with resources, information and inspiration. This requires making an extra effort to inspire the project team to see beyond their differences to see the common finish line. There is no set formula to achieve project success, but standing up for your team and always partnering with them to make things happen will help you inspire them to get there.

Copyright 2009 Samanthi Fernando, PMP - California, USA

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Last Updated on Friday, 07 June 2013 19:32
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